Young Progressive Pose A Rare Challenge To Texas Democratic Congressional Incumbents

Primary challengers are steering the debate to progressive issues in Houston’s 18th and 9th congressional district races, symbolic of a larger rift in the party between left-leaning and moderate Democrats.

By Alexandra HartFebruary 18, 2020 2:24 pm

One of the biggest upsets in recent political history came in 2018 when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional district. In this year’s Congressional races, young progressives in Texas are trying for a similar feat.

Incumbent Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee faces six Democrats in Houston’s 18th district and Rep. Al Green, for the first time in his career, faces a challenger in Houston’s 9th district.

Jeremy Wallace, political reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says the two incumbents have solidly Demorcratic platforms and voting records, yet the challengers are pushing them to address issues from positions further to the left than they have previously done.

Jackson Lee has only faced opposition three times in her career – easily defeating past opponents. This year, challengers Marc Flores and Stevens Orozco have done well in early polls. Wallace says the young candidates are echoing some of the messages used by Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC. That’s especially true of 33-year old activist Orozco. He has come out in support of the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I went door-to-door with him as he was going through the neighborhoods, and he sounded like AOC,” Wallace says. “He has a lot of the progressive energy that you would expect to hear from them.”

This is the first time Green has faced a primary challenge for 14 years in the House. Mortgage broker Melissa Wilson-Williams told Wallace she wants to stand up to Green, despite the low odds of beating an incumbent. Wallace says she might have more trouble raising the amount of money she would need to win. Nonetheless, she is forcing Green campaign – something he has not done since 2004.

“When you speak to her she clearly knows the issues,” Wallace says. “Whether or not she can get the funding to be able to give him the same kind of spirited challenge as we see in the Jackson Lee race remains to be seen.”

Wallace says the races in the two districts symbolize the direction the younger generation of Democratic voters wants to go. Wallace says the newcomers are exposing a rift within the party between moderates and progressives.

“They are not considered conservative Democrats, yet for these younger challenges, they are not liberal enough on a lot of these issues,” Wallace says. “They want to see these candidates taking a more aggressive stance in support of things like the Green New Deal.”


Written by Laura Morales.